As the climate changes, weather conditions are being generated that are more conducive for bushfires.
As a result of climate change, we are seeing a range of severe fires in places that have not experienced such natural disasters before; fires at different times of year to what has been the historical norm in other places; or more dangerous, intensive and larger fires in places that are used to managing bushfires effectively.
Together, those changing experiences across planet Earth are suggesting that a global ecological transition associated with anthropogenic (human caused changes in nature) climate change is partly being driven through the agency of fire.
As the risk of wildfire increases, new responses will be needed. In countries like Switzerland and Scotland the concept of bushfire is changing from a minor hazard or a tool for ecological management, to a real threat. The regularity and intensity of bushfires in California have led some to question whether the US state is still the wonderful place to live in it once was.
In Australia, all states have been experiencing bushfire conditions that have tested our highly developed response systems. As the climate changes therefore, we need to think differently about hazard management and plan our societies differently in response.
The Environment Institute’s Dr Doug Bardsley and colleagues have been researching that question for South Australia, and as our places change, asking what will people think about forests and associated biodiversity in relation to the bushfire risk. While some individuals are proactively managing bushfire risk, it is uncertain whether our communities are preparing adequately (Weber et al. 2019).
In particular, there are questions whether we are planning our suburbs and transport systems so that they fully account for the risk (Bardsley et al. 2017). If people perceive that climate change is increasing bushfire risk to undesirable levels, the pressure to mitigate the risk by reducing the forest estate could increase (Bardsley et al. 2018).
There are opportunities for new approaches and people are open to a more complex discussion about how we should respond (Moskwa et al. 2018). For example, Indigenous communities made use of fire to mitigate bushfires for millennia and there is still much we could learn from those practices (Bardsley et al. 2019). We will not be alone in the search for solutions – as the climate changes, all societies will be seeking out and exploring solutions to risks that will change how we perceive of and manage our places.
Image and article written by: Dr Douglas Bardsley
Bardsley, D.K., Weber, D., Robinson, G.M., Moskwa, E. and Bardsley, A.M., 2015. Wildfire risk, biodiversity and peri-urban planning in the Mt Lofty Ranges, South Australia. Applied Geography 63: 155-165.
Bardsley, D.K., Moskwa, E., Weber, D., Robinson, G.M., Waschl, N. and Bardsley, A.M., 2018. Climate Change, Bushfire Risk, and Environmental Values: Examining a Potential Risk Perception Threshold in Peri-Urban South Australia. Society & Natural Resources 31: 424-441.
Bardsley D.K., Prowse T.A.A. and Siegfriedt C., 2019. Seeking knowledge of traditional Indigenous burning practices to inform regional bushfire management. Local Environment 24: 727-745.
Moskwa, E., Bardsley, D.K., Weber, D. and Robinson, G.M., 2018. Living with bushfire: recognising ecological sophistication to manage risk while retaining biodiversity values. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 27: 459-469.
Weber, D., Moskwa, E., Robinson, G.M., Bardsley, D.K., Arnold, J. and Davenport, M.A., 2019. Are we ready for bushfire? Perceptions of residents, landowners and fire authorities on Lower Eyre Peninsula, South Australia. Geoforum, in press.